Are your selfies landing you in debt?

By Marianne Curphey

Are your selfies causing your debt?

The rise of the "selfie culture" and a fixation on the lifestyles of celebrities may be landing young people in debt. 

Research by environmental company Hubbub found that young people felt pressured not to be tagged in a photo on social media wearing the same outfit twice. Not wanting to make a fashion faux-pas, one in 10 borrow money they can't afford to buy new clothes. 

Hubbub found that 41% of all 18- to 25-year-olds feel the pressure to wear a different outfit every time they go out, rising to 47% for young women.  

One in six young people say they don't feel they can wear an outfit again once it's been seen on social media, and 79% admitted being influenced by at least one social media platform. Instagram topped the list at 55%, followed by Facebook (40%), YouTube (37%), Snapchat (25%) and Twitter (14%).  

Additionally, unboxing videos, in which YouTubers film themselves opening shopping hauls, are hugely popular, with 30% of young people reporting they watch them regularly, possibly influencing young adults to go out and get a "haul" of their own - with money they don't have. 

The selfie culture has a darker side, though, with 1 in 10 borrowing money they can't afford to repay to fund clothes shopping. Hubbub found many borrowing to purchase new clothes were eating cheap food, skipping meals and even selling sentimental belongings to fund their shopping habit. 

More concerning, another study from Royal Mint shows that this is affecting savings levels, too - the #YOLO generation (You Only Live Once) are saving just £300 a year (£5.70 a week) so they can have fun with the rest of their income. This compares to £1,500 per year, which was the average saved 40 years ago, according to historical data published by Lloyds Banking Group. 

Does stuff = success?
The problem is a cultural one that stems from our tendency in the West to value "acquisition" more highly, says Alex Hedger, cognitive behavioural therapist and clinical director at Dynamic You Therapy Clinics, an independent Psychological Therapy Practice. 

"In effect, we have psychologically fused together success with acquiring ‘stuff'," he says. We think, "the bigger my house, car, wardrobe, or holiday, the more I demonstrate to myself and others that I am successful." 

Beliefs such as "you only live once" can be helpful in some aspects of life, but in other areas, such as saving and responsible borrowing, they can be harmful.

"When we act a certain way, over time, it tends to reinforce particular ways of thinking," Hedger says. "This sets up a vicious cycle between unhelpful beliefs about success and spending behaviours."

A further pressure is the weight of social expectations and the need to be part of a tribe.

"Humans are psychologically designed to be social and pack animals," Hedger says. "To do this, there is some innate pressure to conform to social expectations in order to be accepted by others, too."

One of the problems for young people today is that the goals that their parents had - owning a house, buying their own car - are so difficult to achieve that ownership of smaller things seems like the only alternative.

"It's well documented that younger people have proportionately less disposable income than at almost any time in recent history," Hedger says.

"Psychologically, this is important, because to maintain a sense of well-being, it's important for us to achieve goals and milestones," he adds. "If it seems less possible to achieve goals, then we might adjust our goals to ones that seem more achievable, in a shorter space of time and to aim for these instead."

Although this brings a short-term "feel good" factor, it's likely to have a longer term negative impact around achieving wider goals and life security.

Keeping up with ... the Joneses of yesteryear
Jane Cox, an international human performance specialist and wealth psychology expert, says young people may have grown up enjoying instant gratification - gifts and treats from busy working parents to make up for not spending enough time with them.

By the time they are in their late teens, they are accustomed to having the best and most, and they have unrealistic expectations of what they can achieve on a starting salary.

"When their parents were their age, they left home and moved into a one-bedroom flat," she says. "Some young people have no concept that they might have to wait a bit for things that their parents already own, such as their own car and a four-bedroom detached house."

Others feel overwhelmed at the high price of property in the UK and despair of ever being able to enjoy a lifestyle equivalent to that of their parents. Instead, they opt to buy more accessible status symbols - the latest clothes and mobile phone.

"For the younger generation, there is so much that is out of reach," she says. "A home might not be possible, but a new pair of shoes for £20 is, and so that is where their money goes."

What to do about debt
To build long-term financial security, today's 20-somethings need a mindset change.

"You need to think about what is important in life and to have a sense of worth and an identity," Cox says. "It is not about the clothes you wear, it is about having a sense of self and not following the crowd or following celebrities or the constant need to acquire something new.

"Think about what is important and make a few good purchases that will last you," she says. "Follow the example of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who wears the same outfit several times and is regarded as having a refreshing attitude for doing so."

Note, too, that anyone who is worried about their financial situation can come to The Money Advice Service for help and use the services of a free debt charity.

"Seeking help early on is key," says a Money Advice Service spokeswoman. "You don't have to be in debt to seek help - a debt adviser can help people budget and assess income and expenditure before getting into any financial difficulty."

Although it can be a good idea to pay for items with your credit card because it can provide you with an extra layer of protection if things go wrong, you should aim to pay off any balance in full when payment is due. A good deal can quickly disappear if you are accumulating interest charges on your credit card.

In the short term, following a budgeting plan that constricts you compared to your old spending is likely to feel highly unpleasant, Hedger says. Change your mindset by looking at ways to improve your mood and enhance your life experience that don't involve parting with money, so that you feel better about the process.

Hubbub suggests three ways to revamp your wardrobe without buying new clothes: 

1. Swap with friends - Young people's fashion choices are more likely to be influenced by friends than by celebrities or fashion brands

2. Restyle old favourites - Hubbub has collaborated with professional stylist Emma Slade to come up with 10 ways to revamp your wardrobe.

3. Buy second-hand - Apps such as Depop and Vinted are growing in popularity. This also avoids thousands of tonnes of clothing ending up in landfills, so second-hand clothes is not only thrifty, it's also an environmentally friendly solution.

George Charles, spokesperson for, says there are also smart ways of saving money when you are out shopping.

"Use the rewards and loyalty schemes that shops have to offer," he said in an emailed response to questions. "Boots, Debenhams and even Tesco, for example, all have points cards or rewards cards that you can scan every time you make a purchase.

"Some retailers even allow you to boost your points, whether that's with an exchange scheme or by offering set days where they double or triple the points on offer per purchase."

You can find budgeting help and calculators at the Money Advice Service website, the Citizens Advice Bureau, StepChange Debt Charity and National Debtline.

"Get help from a financial expert if you need to," says Hedger. "It's important to keep in mind the difference between short-term versus long-term benefit."  

See related: How your debt and mental health issues are relatedCan credit card debt make you sick?Best credit tips for millennialsHow to build a more effective budget

Published: 28 December 2017